I was disappointed to see Sean Plunket claim as part of a question to David Cunliffe that “archaic party structures” were getting in the way of getting rid of Chris Carter. Not just because the Carter issue is a sideshow but because it showed Plunket’s basic failure to understand the democratic function of political parties.
It seemed from Plunket’s question that he thinks the party should be able to expel anyone they want to without process. This highlights the corporatist view Plunket and many other political journalists seem to have of democratic organisations (they make the same mistake about unions). A view in which, if the boss wants you gone, you’re gone.
But it doesn’t work like that. And if it did we’d be in serious trouble as a democracy. Imagine, for example, what would have happened to the Labour party (and New Zealand’s political landscape) in the 80’s if the far-right hierarchy had been able to get rid of those that had disagreed with them so easily.
It will take a while for the Chris Carter situation to play out and it is unlikely that the result will be neat. That’s because he is protected by the same principles that allow every Labour Party member (and, indeed, members of other parties) to participate in the democratic process openly and safely.
Carter’s actions were absurd and may have damaged the party (or alternatively may have acted as a circuit-breaker – the jury’s still out on that one) but he is as entitled to due process as much as any other member of the party.
That may not make for a nice clean outcome accompanied by nice clean sound-bites but the alternative would mean destroying the “archaic party structures” that help underpin our democracy.
It’s just a shame some of our “expert” political commentators seem incapable of grasping that simple fact.